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An audit for educational disadvantage

By Valerie Yule - posted Friday, 15 August 2008

True measures of educational disadvantage are the proportion of young people who leave formal education unqualified in anything and even illiterate, and the numbers of adults who cannot cope in jobs, who cannot apply simple arithmetic to shopping or gambling, and who have learned no constructive leisure interests.

The economic costs of these disadvantages are enormous. Sending your own children to a "good" private school is no escape from the costs that you pay for those least privileged who will clog the welfare and justice systems.

Let us all back Julia Gillard's determination to tackle educational disadvantage, because it has many causes, and many are not soluble by government money or free laptops. Annual assessment of schoolchildren's progress is essential, but other audits are just as important (and some of the detailed ongoing assessments that can be imposed on teachers actually prevent them getting on with teaching).


Every disadvantaged school needs the public support of its local community and of the whole region. It should not be shamed.

The shame is if it is not improved in the next 12 months.

Let communities have public annual audit of their local schools' progress to reduce disadvantage. And let families and communities themselves try to prevent their children starting school already educationally disadvantaged.

Here is a shopping list. How much will be bought in the coming financial year?

Disrupted classrooms are such a major cause of educational disadvantage that I have always been shocked that our society allows this. Where individual teachers have difficulty, there could be more in-school and in-service aid to help them learn better public speaking, "presence" and other skills to maintain interest and attention - which they should be taught at university in the first place.

Beginning teachers should start with orderly classes so they can become practised in actually teaching - not thrown first into classrooms requiring a continuous struggle before any teaching can be attempted. And of course, individual disrupters also need attention for what problems may be provoking them.


When a whole school or district has problems with disruptive students, a range of actions is needed.

Disadvantaged parents and their children need to be convinced of the value of being educated; that it really offers a better chance of jobs and happiness and that educated children are of value to the whole family, not lost to their parents. Even Prep children must be able to see the value of what they are supposed to learn - which advantaged children come to school already knowing.

When most local parents support the school, then representatives of the law can hear the complaints and impose fines on parents who molest and harass teachers and sentence them to learning more themselves. An important aim must be to prevent revenge arson by parents, students or ex-students, and to set standards of behaviour for these parents' children to follow when they are in class.

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About the Author

Valerie Yule is a writer and researcher on imagination, literacy and social issues.

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